Between 300 and 350 people file into Memorial Hall’s Auditorium, buzzing with conversation while they wait for the concert to begin Thursday evening.
There is an acoustical shell on stage with several bright lights illuminating the setup for the band. There are regular stands for the CSC Jazz Band, but there are also stands for the Glenn Miller Orchestra set apart because they have the words Glenn Miller Orchestra in white Broadway script on a blue background. Four microphones stand at the front of the stage, each at a slightly different height, ranging from about three to five feet.
As 7 p.m. approaches, the audience settles and the CSC Jazz band takes the stage, woodwinds wet and warm their reeds while trombones play off a few quick notes.
The audience greets Assistant Professor McKay Tebbs as he comes on stage and welcomes the audience before introducing the band. The soloists for the first number, “In a Mellow Tone” by Duke Ellington, were Bryony Trump, sophomore of Sterling, Colorado, on the tenor saxophone and Jedd Raymond, junior of Ainsworth, on the baritone sax. It was an upbeat piece with a lilting tune, distinguishably jazz. Other than when the saxophones broke out in their solos, the trumpet and the piano had the distinguishing tunes during this song.
Applause from the audience followed the first performance and then died down as Tebbs introduced the second number, “Groovin’ Hard” by Don Menza and the soloists for this piece: Raymond on baritone saxophone again and Drew Kasch, senior of Parker, Colorado, on the alto saxophone. As compared to the last one, the bass was the most distinguished sound of this piece and the band did a wonderful job with the crescendos and decrescendos, moving from loud to soft and then back again.
The CSC Jazz Band performed well and was rewarded by the audience’s enthusiasm, but their performance paled in comparison when the Glenn Miller Orchestra took the stage.
The band’s director, Nick Hilscher, entered the stage energetically and introduced himself and the band to the audience after the opening performance of “Moonlight Serenade.”
Hilscher is an Atlanta native and began his professional career in his teens, the concert program states.
“I grew up listening to, when I was about 5, like Elvis Presley,” Hilscher said. The program also lists Buddy Holly, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, and Tommy Dorsey as his other early influences.
He was the lead feature male voice for the Glenn Miller band in 1998 and in 2000 he graduated from Samford University with a Bachelor of Music in piano performance. While performing with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, he has been to Canada, Mexico, Europe, South America and Japan.
Hilscher has released several solo albums of his own and his first performance as the director of the Glenn Miller Orchestra was Jan. 12, 2012, the program states.
After he had introduced himself and the band, Hilscher explained that “Moonlight Serenade” has become known as a sort of theme song to the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
The band has been around since March 1938, with different members of course. Under Glenn Miller himself, the band was most successful during the ‘30s and ‘40s, but disbanded in 1942 when Miller decided to volunteer for the army. It was there he started the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band, which traveled to Europe to entertain service men both with live shows and on the radio.
Glenn Miller disappeared over the English Channel on Dec. 15, 1944, and was declared dead a year later. But his legacy lives on. It has been directed by Hilscher since January 2012 and has 18 members today: two singers, five woodwinds, four trumpets, four trombones, a piano player, a drummer, and a bassist. Some of the woodwinds played more than one instrument, such as Brian Lang, of Columbus, Ohio, who played the baritone and alto saxophones, the bass clarinet and the flute.
Now, Hilscher says, the band does roughly 48 weeks of touring around the world each year.
The band wore blue suit jackets, while Hilscher sported a grey suit and a black tie with red dots. Maria Shafer, of Long Beach, California, provided a female voice for the band on several numbers, wearing a charming bright red dress with lipstick to match.
Not only was the orchestra fun to listen to, with its talent combined with upbeat songs, it was also fun to watch. Hilscher danced around the stage in time to the music, clapping along or snapping his fingers. Schafer also swayed her hips back and forth while she stood on the side away from the microphone when she wasn’t singing. The players even swayed and moved to the music and, more than once, the trombones danced, sometimes pointing their trombones at the floor and then quickly bringing them up, or, once, even using the trombone as though it were a golf club.
Hilscher directed the band through several classic songs from Glenn Miller’s library including “A String of Pearls,” “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” “I Know Why,” “Juke Box Saturday Night,” “The American Patrol,” “In the Mood,” “Everybody Loves My Baby,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” and “Song of the Volga Boatmen.”
The start of “Song of the Volga Boatmen” was interesting. The band members started out simply making noise like what you would hear at a bar. You know, that sound of talking but you can’t really pick up on anything specific that’s being said? That’s the one.
“Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” was a cute, little, love ballad where Hilscher and Schafer were joined at the microphone by the Moonlight Serenaders, which was composed of Michael DeSousa, of Milton, Georgia; Cody Leavel, of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; and Kevin Sheehan, of Chicago. DeSousa and Leavel shared a microphone on the right, while Schafer and Sheehan shared the one on the left, and Hilscher got the one in the middle to himself.
Other songs the band played were “Blueberry Hill,” by Fats Domino, “Almost Like Being in Love,” by Nat King Cole, “I’m Glad There’s You,” by Ella Fitzgerald, “Skylark,” by Johnny Mercer, “Blue Moon,” by Billie Holiday, “Skyliner,” by Charlie Barnet, “Come Fly With Me,” by Frank Sinatra, and “Love Me or Leave Me,” by Doris Day.
During “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” Hilscher invited the audience to join in and sing along. The audience got excited and joined on another familiar song, “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.”
Hilscher made sure to involve the audience and, at one point, asked, “You guys having a good time?” The response to this question was a lot of “woo’s” and whistles.
After intermission Hilscher asked if there were any veterans in the crowd and dedicated “The American Patrol” to them.
The familiar tunes brought a couple from the audience out onto the front right side of the auditorium where they danced both slow and swing to the music.
At the end of the performance and during the intermission, the crowd was filled with murmurings of “so good,” “they’re really good,” and “I’m excited to hear what’s next.”
And, when the final song, a repeat of the theme, “Moonlight Serenade,” came about, the audience wasn’t satisfied. The Glenn Miller Orchestra was met with a standing ovation and several cries of “encore!”
Since the piano player, Ron Mills, is from Grand Island, Hilscher decided they would play one more, “Opus No. 1” by Tommy Dorsey from 1943, which has a distinguished piano piece.